There is the potential for large scale expansion of the Program to other international communities in similar conditions. Matthew Flesock

18 March, 2020
In January, Matthew Flesock, the Executive Director of UCLA Health Sound Body Sound Mind Program, was invited to Armenia by My Step Foundation to consult on the Foundation’s Promoting a Healthy Lifestyle in Public Schools program and to share the experience of Sound Body Sound Mind program, which provides fitness trainings for US school students and teachers and improves their health conditions.

Below is the interview with Matthew Flesock.

Could you please describe the main goals of the «Sound Body Sound Mind» project?

The primary goal of UCLA Health Sound Body Sound Mind (SBSM) is to ensure that schools have the proper resources to provide effective physical education for students across Los Angeles. These resources include state-of-the-art exercise machines, fitness accessories, and innovative curriculums. We also have a training program that allows us to support physical education teachers and assist them in developing and implementing impactful programs at their schools.

What motivates you to lead «Sound Body Sound Mind»?

Personally, I live a very active life, but also realize that I am fortunate to have access to resources that allow me to be active, while many others do not. I am passionate about education and the health and well-being of youth. I have found my work at UCLA Health Sound Body Sound Mind valuable in helping create a healthier generation of young people by providing access to health and wellness opportunities. I love the fact that on a daily basis I am able to help students all over Los Angeles and inspire new people to live a more active life – it is a true passion of mine.

Have you been in Armenia before? What are your impressions?

This trip was my first time in Armenia. I found the experience very eye opening and valuable to see firsthand the conditions of schools across the country. I enjoyed the open and friendly Armenian culture and felt very welcomed as a guest in every meeting or school I visited.

During your trip you visited different schools and probably have a realistic view of the problems related to healthy lifestyle and physical education. Could you share your thoughts?

There exists a great disparity between schools in the city and schools in more rural regions and I think this is an important element to consider when planning for this project.

How «Sound Body Sound Mind» relates to what My Step Foundations plans to do to promote healthy lifestyle in public schools?

The work laid out in the Healthy Lifestyle Project by the My Step Foundation has a lot of similarities to the work of SBSM. Both organizations are looking to improve activity levels among youth by targeting the physical education space in schools. However, the Healthy Lifestyles Project looks to tackle much more by including sanitation and restroom facilities in its scope.

What needs to be done to ensure the success of the project?

I believe that one of the more difficult elements of this project will be determining the priorities in working with a school. Between gyms and restrooms, it is clear to me that restrooms need to take priority as they are a basic human right. The development and implementation of minimum project standards will be critical to the success of this initiative. All schools targeted by the My Step Foundation need to be given the same resources so there are no perceived differences between what is received at each school. Additionally, with any project with such a large scope and scale, it is very easy to get carried away by the big picture, long-term goals. However, in order to reach these, there must be many small scale pilots and tests to hone and craft the most effective approach. It will be very important to take a practical and reasonable approach in the initial phases to ensure success down the road.

After seeing many schools first hand, this project is going to be very capital intensive. There exists a great need for extensive construction at many school sites. Because of this, the initial reach of the project will be limited and fundraising will be critical in driving this effort forward. Additionally, it will not be enough to just provide the resources for the schools. There will need to be an educational component for both students and educators on how to best use the new resources. Getting buy in, support, and a willingness to adopt new practices from these teachers, particularly in rural communities will be a challenge, but will be critical to the project’s success.

I think there is immense value from some of the partners involved with this project, particularly Dasaran with their data collection capabilities and access to all students. This platform will be crucial in rolling out surveys and other tools to truly determine if the Healthy Lifestyles Project is generating positive results. Additionally, the ability to look at public health data will be crucial in testing success in decreasing the rates of communicable diseases through sanitation resources and public education.

Do you think there is a potential and value for further collaboration?

As this is an entirely new effort for the My Step Foundation, I believe there is value for UCLA Health Sound Body Sound Mind to support and advise on the Healthy Lifestyles Project. I believe that there is a lot of information sharing that could help develop this project more successfully. Long term, I believe that if a model is developed for Armenia, there is the potential for large scale expansion to other international communities in similar conditions.

What difference do you think My Step Foundation healthy lifestyle project can potentially make in the lives of school students both short-term and long-term?

Ultimately, I think the Healthy Lifestyle Project has the potential to greatly improve the overall health and wellness of children across Armenia. After seeing the glaring lack of resources in many schools, there are a number of small steps that can be taken that will generate positive change. Providing access to restrooms is a basic right and adding in access to safe resources for physical activity will pair together well in helping turn the tide for young people in Armenia.

18 March, 2020
NEWS

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